NXNE presents JOE BOYD reading from his book WHITE BICYCLES: MAKING MUSIC IN THE 1960s at the NOW Lounge (189 Church), tonight (Thursday, June 7), 7 pm. Free. And JOE BOYD in discussion at the Holiday Inn's Regency Room B (370 King West), Friday (June 8), 2 pm. NXNE delegates. Limited $30 tickets available at NXNE Conference desk at Holiday Inn. Rating: NNNNN
If the music world has a zelig character, it's Joe Boyd.
Blessed with an impeccable set of ears and an uncanny knack for being in the right place at precisely the right time, Boyd had an unseen hand in many of the crucial musical events that shaped the sound of the 60s that still echoes loudly in the music of today.
Even before he cemented his reputation as a visionary by discovering Pink Floyd and Nick Drake and kick-starting the British folk-rock boom with Fairport Convention and the Incredible String Band, Boyd was busy sowing the seeds of a music revolution.
He served as a roadie on the influential overseas expeditions of U.S. blues and jazz greats whose records he'd previously hawked to fellow Harvard students during the early days of the Cambridge coffee-house folk scene.
And when Bob Dylan went electric at the Newport Folk Festival of 1965, guess who was the stage manager? Yep, our kid Boyd. He was there and recalls it all in vivid detail in his wonderful memoir, White Bicycles: Making Music In The 60s (Serpent's Tail).
But, as we discover, that infamous Newport show wasn't his first encounter with Dylan. A year before, at the apartment of Mary Vangi, whom Boyd fancied, Dylan made an unannounced appearance, dripping wet from his morning-after shower.
Displaying characteristic foresight and gentlemanly reserve, Boyd refrained from stabbing Dylan with a fork and perhaps halting the rising counterculture star's ascent right there at the breakfast table. Instead, he just quietly accepted the fact that he'd been beaten to the bedroom by the better man.
"Had it been just some guy, I imagine I would've reacted quite differently. But it was Dylan after all," chortles Boyd from his London home. "Remember, this was a year after I'd heard him sing A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall and Masters Of War in a tiny bedroom, so I knew I was in the presence of greatness.
"I guess that's why I chose the line of work I did. I could tell when a musician was good. I don't know what I can ascribe it to, except that I'd done an awful lot of listening and I'd heard enough great music to tell when something really special came along."
Boyd wasn't mistaken when he heard greatness in Nick Drake. It just took 31 years and a Volkswagen commercial featuring the song Pink Moon for the rest of the world to catch on.
While Boyd is pleased that Drake's music is finally getting the attention it deserves, he finds it difficult to accept Drake's recent commerical success as proof of his own prescience.
"For me, "prescient' is a depressing term, because what I was hearing and pursuing were things I thought would be successful right away. But as it turned out, many of those things only became successful years later in a limited way.
"It was never a matter of me thinking, "People are really going to love this 40 or 50 years from now!' I thought, "People are gonna love this tomorrow!' In a way, I'm forced to view my work with Nick Drake as a failure, because I couldn't figure out how to get his music across to an audience big enough to support him during his lifetime."
Since interest in the enigmatic Drake, the patron saint of sad-sack guitar strummers in bedrooms everywhere, has never been greater, it makes sense that his sister Gabrielle in conjunction with the late artist's estate is releasing the Family Tree (Tsunami/Fontana) disc, the first family-authorized collection of Drake's late-60s home recordings made at his Tanworth-in-Arden residence and during a stay in Aix-en-Provence. (See review, previous page.)
"I've had lengthy debates about releasing an artist's demos," says Boyd, who himself issued a collection of Nick Drake outtakes called Time Of No Reply in 1986. "I've bought Charlie Parker records that have five different takes of Ornithology from the same session. But I think I'd be just as happy, or maybe happier, with just hearing the master take that Parker and his producer chose to put out at the time. There's an argument to be made for limiting what comes out. It's important to consider an artist's legacy.
"But since poor-quality bootlegs of Nick Drake's home recordings have circulated on the Internet, there's also the argument that if people are listening to this stuff anyway, let's have it well organized with the best possible sound.
"One thing on Family Tree that's important for people to hear are the songs they've included by Nick's mother, Molly Drake, because they put Nick's work in context and show how his music was influenced by her. The way she shapes a chord on the piano explains a lot about how Nick tuned his guitar. When Gabrielle first gave me a tape of Molly Drake playing piano, I was like, 'Whoa! Now I get it!'"
Additional Interview Audio Clips
Joe Boyd discusses the current state of the music business
Why Joe Boyd doesn't have an ipod and isn't planning on getting one.